A long journey to recovery: Day One gives woman who experienced sexual abuse a new lease on life

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It was 1976, Susan’s senior year in high school, a time to make lasting memories with friends and celebrate once-in-a-lifetime events like prom and graduation.

But for Susan, it was the beginning of a nightmare that would haunt her for the next 40 years.

It began one night when her stepfather made a sexual advance while they were smoking pot. The 17-year-old immediately told him to stop, ran to her car, and bolted so fast out of the driveway that she backed into a parked car before speeding away. After that evening, her stepfather continued to sexually abuse her several times.

“I thought he would be my protector but instead he became the worst thing that could have happened to me,” she said. “I don’t know why he did this to me.”

Devastated, Susan told her mom what happened. Her stepfather denied it, telling his wife that Susan must have been dreaming. Heartbroken and frustrated, Susan suppressed the molestation by drinking alcohol. As the years passed, she drank more and more. It became an addiction that would later lead to two drunken driving offenses and time in jail.

Then, a little over a year ago, Susan learned something so terrifying that happened in her past that it threw her into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The 60-year-old woman was celebrating Thanksgiving with her family when her stepfather revealed he raped her approximately 20 years prior.

Susan couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her mind started racing back in time to somewhere between 1998 and 2000 when she was in her 40s, divorced from her first husband and living on her own with her son. Susan remembers being drunk and her stepfather coming to the door, telling him to leave, and him saying he wanted to come in for just a minute. Then she said she passed out.

After replaying the evening in her mind, Susan left the family gathering and hasn’t talked to her stepfather since. She now feels very alone since her mother died in 2003, and her sister stopped talking to her after that family gathering.

SEEKING HELP

The first time Susan came to Day One for therapy it was court ordered. She had been charged with Driving Under the Influence second offense and sentenced in 2012 to two years probation. She also was required to attend Alcohol Anonymous meetings, therapy, and group therapy.

At first, the sentencing didn’t seem to faze Susan. She spent most of her life as a functional alcoholic, working during the day and having a few vodka drinks at home in the evenings. Once on probation, Susan figured she could “beat the system” by having a drink after 9 p.m. and then waiting 10 hours to blow into the breathalyzer inside her car. But that didn’t work. Susan violated her probation not once but twice for drinking alcohol and was thrown in jail both times for three days. Her husband was so angry when he picked her up from her second stay in jail that he wanted to file for a divorce.

It was a wakeup call for Susan, who decided she didn’t want to spend another night in jail and didn’t want to lose her husband. She began therapy at Day One, where she learned her drinking stemmed from the deep-rooted problems in her life.

“My drinking was a symptom of the mental, emotional and physical abuse I experienced with my stepfather while I was a senior in high school,” she said.

When Susan drank, she also liked to spend money that she didn’t have. Her compulsive shopping habits led her to filing bankruptcy twice. At one point she had $25,000 in credit card debt.

When I started therapy at Day One, I was a wreck. I didn’t know how to deal with the sexual abuse. I didn’t know what to do. I lost my family. I was in a real bad place. I couldn’t remember things. Now I’m on a positive pathway to control my thoughts instead of letting my thoughts control me.

Through therapy and attending Alcohol Anonymous meetings, Susan has been sober since August 2013 and her compulsive spending habits aren’t as frequent. Her first round of therapy at Day One ended when she completed her probation in 2014.

While Susan’s legal issues were resolved for driving-related offenses, she found herself back in court in 2016, this time on charges related to her employment. She eventually was found not guilty in a jury trial.

“I was going through all this stuff and I didn’t drink, and I’m so proud of myself,” she said. “I learned so many coping skills from Day One that helped me so much. I was able to get through it. I was taught how to get through another season of my life.”

The trial, though, took a toll on Susan’s mental and physical health, which got worse after her stepfather revealed they had sex. She was experiencing anxiety and PTSD, feeling anxious all the time, crying a lot, and forgetting her train of thought. She also lost 25 pounds and had one drinking relapse — the day her stepfather told her they had sex. The traumatic experience left her feeling shameful and degraded.

Because of this, on July 2018, Susan decided to return to Day One for therapy.

“When she first came to Day One she really struggled to manage depression, guilt and symptoms of PTSD,” said Day One Behavioral Health Clinician Kellie Smith-Tate. “She blamed herself for a traumatic occurrence that was out of her control causing insecurities, trust issues, isolation and depression. Throughout her time in treatment she worked hard to achieve a sense of peace, establish healthy boundaries and repair relationships that were once broken due to fear of rejection. She is a true inspiration. I feel very fortunate to have met such a resilient woman.”

Susan said she has had a very positive experience with Day One, especially the therapists.

“Whatever Day One is doing to hire their therapists, they are doing it right,” she said. “I would recommend Day One to everyone I know because of the therapists. I’ve had experience with Day One two times for tragedies that happened in my life. I have only gone to see my therapist, Kellie, for six months this time but the knowledge and education I learned from her and the group therapy is beyond anything I thought could happen. I finally got to a place where I could understand it wasn’t my fault. He’s a sick man, and it took a long time for me to realize that.” 

Susan has come a long way since her senior year in high school and credits Day One and AA for giving her a new lease on life.

“Now I listen to positive thinking tapes,” Susan said. “I really have a close relationship with God and that really helps me. Before, instead of being proactive, I was reactive. Now because of Day One, I learned to shut up and listen and don’t say anything until I can think about it.

“When I started therapy at Day One, I was a wreck. I didn’t know how to deal with the sexual abuse. I didn’t know what to do. I lost my family. I was in a real bad place. I couldn’t remember things. Now I’m on a positive pathway to control my thoughts instead of letting my thoughts control me.”